When you’re a small business owner looking for help, there are a lot of tools and organizations that can offer free help and answers. In fact, there are so many that sometimes it’s hard for new business owners to know who can help with what problem.
SCORE, the SBA and SBDC are all organizations that offer resources, advice and benefits for small and mid-sized businesses in the U.S. The business services offered by each organization are different, though all of these agencies exist to promote and encourage small businesses in some ways. Business owners and entrepreneurs can reach out to all three organizations for assistance and guidance with matters such as business financing, human resources, business planning or launching a brand-new company.
The SBA is a government entity, and both SCORE and the SBDC work in partnership with it, though they have their own structure and mission. Here’s a look at the unique services and resources offered by each entity and how you can find out more or get assistance from any of them.
How to Use SCORE
SCORE works in partnership with the SBA. SCORE relies heavily on volunteers — experienced business men and women who are willing to spend time with, and offer advice to, others. The main mission of SCORE is to connect these volunteer mentors with new entrepreneurs and business owners who might benefit from an experienced ear and actionable advice.
Mentoring from a SCORE volunteer is free. If you’re interested in being connected with a SCORE volunteer mentor, you can search for a mentor or complete a location-specific mentor request via SCORE’s Find a Mentor page.
In addition to connecting mentors and those in need, SCORE offers numerous online and offline learning resources. Business owners and those who want to start a new business can find business planning, budgeting and other templates on the agency’s website. SCORE maintains a fairly comprehensive online library of how-to materials, such as checklists for starting a website or articles on navigating legal matters if clients don’t pay you.
You can also register for live webinars and local worships, take on-demand online courses or view prerecorded seminars. Most of SCORE’s educational resources explore business tools and practices in areas such as accounting, management, marketing and customer relations, and they are typically provided free of charge.
How to Leverage the SBA
The SBA is the U.S. Small Business Administration — the federal agency that administrates business loans and grants, provides educational resources on a variety of topics and works with many other organizations to encourage the development of small businesses across the nation. Like SCORE, the SBA offers many workshops, online articles and webinars. Often these resources are free, though some local workshops and conferences that are hosted in partnership with the SBA may involve fees.
You can visit SBA.gov to access a large library of resources on starting, funding and managing a company. The SBA provides free business planning and budgeting templates and connects individuals and businesses with financial opportunities. Some of those opportunities are backed by the SBA itself, such as the SBA small business loan program, which offers loans for very specific purposes. SBA loans require a specific kind of business credit score and other business data to qualify. (You can check your business credit score for free on Nav.) Some loans offered by the SBA include:
- General small business loans for new companies in specific niches
- Short-term microloans for some types of childcare centers
- Real estate loans
- Disaster loans to help at-need businesses get through disaster recovery
- Expansion loans to help businesses grow
One of the missions of the SBA is to help small businesses launch and grow so those businesses can potentially contribute to a growing economy and create jobs. In addition to a robust national website full of helpful resources, the SBA operates regional offices in a variety of areas throughout the country.
How to Take Advantage of SBDCs
The Small Business Development Centers work in partnership with the SBA, but the network of offices across the country offers free, one-on-one training and assistance on topics that matter to entrepreneurs and small business owners.
The relationship you might have with the SBDC is a bit different than the one you could develop with a SCORE mentor. When you work with a SCORE volunteer, you’re potentially creating a personal relationship for your network. The SBDC lets you reach out for a specific purpose and get help from a business consultant. Meeting with one of the consultants is free, and the SBDC also offers training at a cost. The type of education covered by both resources includes international trade, regulatory compliance, how to write a business plan, technology development, marketing and how to gain access to capital for launching or expanding your company.
America’s SBDC hosts a networking conference every year, and more than 1,300 professionals attend. At this trade show, the mentors, consultants and trainers who offer SBDC services in their home regions participate in workshops and mingle with vendors, so they are able to pick up new information and resources to help you. You can search for the SBDC office nearest you on the America’s SBDC website.
As you can see, these three organizations have the same basic mission: to encourage the success of small businesses in America. They go about that mission in slightly different ways, and if you’re thinking about starting a business — or you already are a small business owner — then you can leverage assistance and resources from all of these organizations to help your company succeed.